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Mississippi foundations a rising tide that lifts all boats

JANE ALEXANDER

JANE ALEXANDER

By BECKY GILLETTE

According to the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers (MAG) report for 2015, foundation giving in Mississippi has increased significantly from $55 million in 2001 to $91 million in 2012. Mississippi businesses are often involved either with foundations of their own or by supporting community foundations.

Sammy Moon, coordinator of the association, said it is obvious that non-profit foundations are important to low-income states like Mississippi.

“But, I also think it’s important that we think about building public-private funding partnerships when possible, .e.g, involving both public sector resources and philanthropic resources to work toward achieving desired results in particular issue areas,” Moon said.

Some foundations are focused on one particular goal. But commonly organizations like United Way and community foundations act as an umbrella funding multiple non-profit organizations to meet diverse needs.

Jane Alexander, president and chief executive of the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson and a member of the MAG Board of Directors, said often what happens with corporations who fund foundations is that they have a very specific objective.

“Most are focusing on things that will have a positive impact on the community, but also on how they are able to do business,” Alexander said. “A power company, for example, might fund a lot of low- income housing initiatives in the country. Helping make more low-income housing energy efficient helps their customers be better. What the power company says is if we can tackle making these homes more energy efficient, home owners will be able to pay bills on time, they will have a better credit rating, and their paycheck goes further. They have more money to spend on healthy food. It is really about raising all the boats together. They give a lot of thought to something that is not only of a long-term benefit to the community, but also ultimately will have an impact on how they do business.”

Another example is Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, which is working to encourage a culture of wellness in Mississippi.

“A healthy Mississippi is a place where health and wellness is the foundation for our schools, communities, colleges and universities and our entire culture,” BCBS says. “It’s where healthy, active kids learn the importance of good health and lifestyle habits at school each day. It’s communities of active residents exercising in parks and enjoying healthy produce from the local community garden or farmers’ market. And it is a place where our state’s colleges and universities offer health screenings to students and local community members.”

Alexander said healthy people don’t lose their jobs due to illnesses, avoid hospitalizations and can be productive members of society for a longer time.

“That is where corporate philanthropy is about improving outcomes for all of our citizens, but doing it in areas where they have business expertise,” Alexander said. “A power company isn’t going to address walking tracks because Blue Cross is going to do that. They have experts they can tap into in order to solve some of those problems. That’s a lot how corporate philanthropy works in Mississippi.”

There are benefits to smaller businesses who contribute to community foundations. For example, a law firm might contribute to a foundation once a year. The benefit is they get an immediate tax deduction because all community foundations are non-profit 501c(3) organizations.

Alexander said one advantage she hears from company donors is it gives them time to make decisions on which specific charities they want to support, and it gives them a little more of an arm’s length relationship so they aren’t making these decision in a hurry at the end of the year.

“You don’t want your company’s philanthropy to be driven by the squeakiest wheel,” she said. “You have a deadline at the end of the year to make contributions to offset the tax burden. How political does it get? How uncomfortable does it get? Who is in charge of philanthropy at your business?”

Alexander said another way a business can have a positive impact is working through community foundations like the one she runs, which is one of seven such foundations in Mississippi. An example is when Nissan came to Madison County, it set up a fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson to do something very specific, provide assistance to teachers in Canton and Madison county public schools.

“So we administer a teacher mini-grant program for them,” Alexander said. “That isn’t the only thing they do that is charitable. Certainly Nissan is doing a lot of things.  Toyota did the same thing with the CREATE Foundation. They have some grants running through that foundation.”

The CREATE Foundation in Tupelo has assets of about $98 million, which makes it one of the largest foundations in Mississippi. The CREATE Foundation is unique in that it was created in 1972 when George McLean was looking for a way to have the Daily Journal Inc., always stay locally owned. He also wanted to provide a vehicle for others to make charitable gifts. At McLean’s death in 1983, all of the stock of the Daily Journal Inc., the largest locally owned newspaper in the state, was transferred to the CREATE Foundation. Later eight weekly newspapers, a printing business and the Mississippi Business Journal were purchased and came under the umbrella of the Journal Inc., which also has substantial real estate holdings.

There is no question it is an unusual model, said Mike Clayborn, president of the CREATE Foundation. McLean said it is more common to give a certain part of an asset to a charitable entity, with a tax deduction being received for the asset.

“In every aspect the Journal Inc. continues to operate as a for-profit business, but it provides dividends for the CREATE Foundation, which makes charitable gifts to other organizations,” Clayborn said.

Toyota has committed $50 million to education in Lee, Pontotoc and Union counties through the CREATE Foundation.

“We are actually receiving $5 million per year from Toyota for ten years to build a $50-million endowment fund,” Clayborn said. “That is probably as unique as the CREATE Foundation owning the Journal Inc. You would have to look pretty far to find a company that has made a commitment for a $50-million permanent fund to support education.”

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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